Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher has too many unanswered questions about the city’s planned purchase of a $600,000 fire truck. Less than two weeks ago she called for a special meeting of the commission to raise the questions, and to hear from the truck manufacturer and other experts in the field. The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. this evening.
What Provencher did not expect was to be outmaneuvered by her own city manager, who sets meeting agendas. One of the items Bruce Campbell included on the agenda was “possible action related to direction to staff to purchase.”
Provencher tried to cancel the meeting, as some of the presenting guests she wanted there could not make it. She couldn’t. She then tried to have the Campbell item removed. That failed, too.
“I do still have a lot of concerns as well as other people about not just this particular truck but this particular company,” Provencher told fellow-commissioners at a meeting last week. “I just feel that making this type of purchase should take more than one meeting.”
Commissioner Jane Mealy said the purchase has been talked about since May. “I’m beginning to feel like we’re stretching a rubber band and we’re just going on and on and on and not making any progress,” Mealy said. “If at the end of that—we don’t have to take a vote that night if we don’t feel comfortable, right? If at the end of that night the majority of us feel ready to take a vote, I don’t want to take it off the agenda.”
Provencher disputed the notion that the truck has been talked about that much. She said it was first brought up during a strategic session, where commissioners don’t vote.
It was also discussed during a budget workshop, where commissioners don’t vote\, and at two town halls called by Commissioner Steve Settle, an ardent supporter of the first truck purchase. Both town hall meetings were carefully orchestrated as cheerleading sessions for the truck, with only city firefighters as spokesmen and no countervailing officials. Commissioners don’t have to attend those town hall meetings, though most did (Provencher did not), but they can’t vote at those sessions. A petition that gathered some 600 signatures opposed to the truck buy was derided by commissioners as unrepresentative. Commission Chairperson Kim Carney brought up the matter in an agenda item of her own, trying to get the purchase voted down, but she failed to get so much as a second for her motion. In sum, the commission has never taken a vote specific to the fire truck. The closest it came to doing so was by approving the budget, which included money for the truck.
“I just feel like we’ve never spent this kind of money on a piece of equipment in our entire lives, and there are a lot of concerns out there about it,” Provencher said.
“I don’t really want us to vote on it that night, and that was never my intent,” Provencher said, referring to her reason for calling the special meeting. “It really wasn’t, and somehow, I mean I signed for the meeting, so it’s there, but I really would not like us to vote on this that night.”
What if Monday’s discussions convince the city that it’s the right purchase, Commissioner Joy McGrew asked.
“Who’s going to convince you? The fire department and the salesman?” Provencher retorted. “Yeah, of course they’re going to convince you. They’re absolutely going to convince you.”
Provencher pressed her case. She is unconvinced that the city needs a tower truck, or that particular truck, called a “quint,” because of its versatility. The city had at one point agreed to put the truck out for bid, she said, then didn’t. She circulated materials to her fellow commissioners raising questions about the proposed buy, including a 2009 article from Fire Engineering that started: “Quint debates can be partial, biased, and downright emotional. Traditionalists cannot accept the idea that the traditionalpumpless ladder truck, equipped with large amounts of ancillary equipment, an aerial device, and numerous ground ladders, may be a thing of the past. They cannot understand why today’s firefighters and administrators believe that multitasking apparatus with fewer personnel is the cure-all on the fireground. This article does not discredit the quint or pit the old against the new. Instead, it objectively illustrates the diminishing capabilities of the traditional ladder company and limitations that purchasing a quint—and, in particular, a small one—imposes on fireground operations. The quintuple apparatus may not be the cure-all for budget cuts, consolidation, downsizing, and inadequate staffing.” (The city circulated its own back-up materials.)
“Unfortunately,” Provencher said, “it just seems like everybody’s mind is made up, and there’s no questions. I’ve given you literature to read, I don’t think anybody’s read it or looked into it.”
“I read it last night, don’t start doing that stuff,” Mealy snapped.
“So based on everything that you’re read on this company you’re still ready to move forward with it?” Provencher asked.
“I didn’t say I was ready to buy the truck,” Mealy said. But three commissioners “might feel ready to vote.” She added: “Let’s get our questions answered Monday night. If three of us feel ready to vote, we’ll vote. If we feel like there’s still some questions, then we won’t.”
The city’s current ladder truck has been out of service—a fact commissioners learned of only last Thursday. It needs at least $36,000 in repairs. The quint, which has a body of just under 37 feet in length, has a 75-foot ladder. But it won’t be built and ready for delivery for almost a year, leaving the city without a ladder truck during that time. Carney, the commission chairman who has opposed the quint buy all along, says that fact should be enough to give commissioners pause, since the city can operate fine without a ladder truck by relying on its mutual aid agreements with Palm Coast and the county for ladder trucks, which make it into the city on emergencies in matters of minutes. Carney said the city’s own statistics show that given the number of actual fire calls involving homes or businesses, a new ladder truck is not warranted. Those numbers appear below.
This evening’s meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. at City Hall in Flagler Beach. It is open to the public.